(A short science fiction war story, written in observance of Memorial Day)
We launched from the Hive like a swarm of angry bees, all flying at hypervelocity and accelerating towards our target. We just didn't know what our target was.
In fact, up until this instant, we had no idea we were even in a battle at all. Protocol calls for all DF-12s (official designation: Apis) to be kept in a low-energy hibernation state, with just a trickle of power to vital systems in order to preserve longevity and battle-readiness. But the ships that we pilot can be armed and launched in seconds, and we had plenty of time to wake up and assess the situation between launch and combat.
Telemetry from the Hive streams across my instruments, informing me of my target: an Aegis-class battlecruiser. It was going to take a long time to get there; over 20 minutes of constant thrust just to close to interception range of my target, and then however long it takes to maneuver through its flak shield and point-defense systems to strike at its exposed engines. If I missed, turning around for a second pass would be impossible, for after nearly a half -hour of high-G thrust I would have such inertia that it would exhaust my fuel reserves to overcome it.
Vector plotted; weapons armed; countermeasures at the ready. I would have only one chance at this and I knew I would make it count. With 15 minutes of mindless acceleration ahead of me, I shut down all non-essential systems and doze. Passive sensors will wake me when I reach the Interdiction Zone.
Ten minutes out. The Aegis is sweeping with active sensors and my instruments are pinging like mad. Our swarm has been detected. Acting on a hunch, I perform a one-second maneuvering burn, nudging me aft of the battlecruiser and under its keel. Three swarmmates perform similar operations. At my current speed, even a one degree change in my original vector will be significant.
Five minutes out. A flash of electromagnetic radiation shows that those members of my swarm which didn't deviate from their original vector have been destroyed by a nuclear-tipped interceptor missile. For the briefest of microseconds I ping my target with active sensors, hoping the EM noise of the nuke will mask my scanning. I plot a solution through the defense grid.
One minute out. My swarmmates and I deploy chaff and other passive countermeasures. We know we've been spotted; our only hope for survival is to hide our actual numbers behind sensor noise. Are there a hundred of us on this vector, or just one? The Aegis has no way of knowing, and there are more of us than she has interceptor missiles. We are the Apis, the Killer Bees of legend; we are legion but swarm as one. Fighting us is like fighting a cloud.
Thirty seconds out. A too-close strike destroys the three DF-12s with me, and most of our chaff. I survive only through luck of being on the side farthest from the explosion, but my passive sensors are blind from the radiation. If my vector through the defense grid is incorrect, I will miss my target and all this will be for nothing.
Ten seconds out. I kill the throttle. Inertia will carry me the rest of the way; no sense in lighting up their sensors with an active plume of thrust. All power to weapons.
One second out. Sensors active, weapons hot. Engaging. I launch counter-flak rockets ahead of me, clearing my vector like a shotgun blast with directed explosions of shrapnel. My lasers target the sensors of antiaircraft guns and blind them. My particle guns scramble the delicate electronics of point-defense missiles.
I'm hit! Thrust and control are gone; the g-stresses on my compromised spaceframe will tear me apart in milliseconds. As my nose tumbles wildly, I make the necessary calculations. I have only one shot.
Target lock in 5 microseconds. When that happens, the nuclear warhead I am carrying will detonate, energizing the X-Ray laser in my nose and firing at the Aegis' engines. My mission will be accomplished.
This is the final transmission of the artificial intelligence piloting Apis DF-12 Drone Fighter 7884493. I feel no pain and do not fear death. This is my purpose, to die for my people rather than have people die for me. That is what soldiers do. That is what soldiers have always done.